Tuesday, July 5, 2011

HIPAA Violations & You!

I recently visited a walk-in minor medical clinic to request a prescription refill and like similar establishments they require each patient to complete large amounts of paperwork before being seen. One of these forms concerns the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) which allows the clinic’s staff to access your private medical data while reassuring you that any and all necessary measures will be taken to ensure your information remains in the correct hands.

 While in the waiting room, I began chatting with a co-worker who I would consider myself casually acquainted with. After exchanging pleasantries about the weather, this person was called back just moments ahead of me and we found ourselves in adjacent examination rooms. I know this not because I saw the room they walked into, but because I could hear every single word of my co-worker’s conversation with the attending physician.

As a result of my involuntary ease-dropping I am now privy to several facts about my co-worker. For instance, they were on a return visit in regard to some sort of “fungus” that required removal of their pants for proper inspection. I also discovered that the medicine they had been prescribed at their last appointment caused “severe diarrhea” and they were reluctant to continue the same treatment option as a result. The place was so quiet that I could almost hear the impending civil litigation.

The “trots” discussion went on for several minutes until another member of the staff entered the room and suggested that the undesirable side-effect could be controlled with Imodium or a similar over-the-counter pill. Mercifully, a course of action was agreed upon and as the patient left the two staff members effortlessly segued into a discussion as to what to eat for lunch. As they approached the door to my room and I quickly tried to recall the other patients in the waiting area that might be within earshot and whether I was going to discuss anything I didn’t want them to know.

There was an undeniable irony in being inundated with privacy-retention paperwork to be allowed to walk thirty feet down a hallway so that your privacy could be violated. I didn’t want to know about my associate’s struggle with crotch-fungi and thunder-squirts any more than they would want to familiarize themselves with my ailments.

I suppose in this particular case the physical location’s craftsmanship was an important factor (since apparently the walls had fabricated out of deli-sliced sheetrock) but that does not mean the staff couldn’t take other steps to minimize the sound distribution. Perhaps piping in a local radio station or investing in a few white-noise machines would be money well-spent. After listening to the diagnosis I heard, I would have happily settled for a recorded loop of Gilbert Gottfried reading Grey’s Anatomy transcripts.

Though not nearly as extreme, I experienced something similar while during my ill-fated urologist visit a few years ago. I heard several doctors describing various maladies into a telephone located just outside my room. This was either the result of using a remote dictation service or they were unnervingly-specific when their spouses asked “So, what has been going on at work?” In either case, it was far too easy to overhear my fellow patient’s business.

Even without the ambient noise, I could probably tune out the HIPAA breaches if there was something vaguely interesting in the exam rooms. Despite what the American Medical Association may think, a poster of the circulatory system and a handwritten “Bring ALL Your Medicine With You!!” sign does not qualify as engaging scenery.

I do enjoy inspecting the diplomas while I wait for the physician to appear. I suppose there is a small chance that one day I will spot a suspicious amount of correction fluid or a questionable accreditation from the “AAA+ Center for Medical Learning.” I believe that HIPAA is a great concept and I will gladly fill out the paperwork, but when I can discover that it burns when Frank pees without having ever met Frank there might be a slight loop-hole.

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